Late last week, Princeton professor and ex-Director of Policy Planning at the State Dept. Anne-Marie Slaughter killed any dwindling hope for third-wave feminists seeking to balance career and family with her viral Atlantic Monthly article “Why Women Still Can’t Have in All” in the July/August issue. In particular, she took the role of females in the foreign policy workplace to task by providing her own insider view of the challenges facing women in high-level careers. This follows closely upon Micah Zenko’s study published last summer in Foreign Policy (cited by Slaughter) which he aptly titled “City of Men” to reflect “the staggering absence of women of Washington’s foreign policy community” and across thinktanks and college campuses, currently constituting less than 25% of the workforce. This also tracks closely with a recent report in the The Guardian noting a record exodus of female PhDs (especially those in the sciences) from academia.
At the same time, female expertise and perspective has long been considered highly valuable in the field of conflict resolution and management. Experts hail women as skilled communicators whose empathy for their subjects strongly complements traditional training. In the realm of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, women have been at the forefront of both high-level negotiations and grassroots movements to achieve peace. Where would the peace process be without the likes of such diverse figures as Naomi Chazan, Hanan Ashrawi, Tzippi Livni, Daniella Weiss, Queen Rania, and Hagit Ofran, who have led their respective movements, not to mention the unnamed rank and file of Women in Black, Women in Green, and the Palestinian women’s movement? (We might also consider the tragically prominent role of female suicide bombers.) If female professionals cannot or will not pursue careers in these fields, this critical asset will be lost.
As a recent female doctorate starting my career in this industry at age 31, I am deeply troubled by these trends. Even with increasingly gender parity in awarded doctoral degrees, I find that the field is still largely populated by men and often characterized by a “boy’s club” atmosphere. Many women have anecdotal stories of the personal or professional discrimination they continue to face in their workplace. At the same time, those women who I personally see “making it” are often, quite frankly, workaholics, with little time (or interest) in extra-curricular pursuits. It makes one wonder not only if “women can’t have everything” but can they even contribute at all?
I wish to offer a few suggestions here:
1. Create More Meaningful Mid-Level Positions for Women
Many careers for women (within and outside of foreign policy) seemingly operate on a two-track realm. Public servants, who face an especially rigid bureaucracy, are often expected to work late into the nightand come in on weekends in order to advance in their careers. Despite popular perceptions of flexibility in the ivory tower, women professors are still required to keep up with the break-neck pace of the tenure clock or resign themselves to a lifetime of adjunct positions. I argue that the workplace must create more meaningful mid-level positions that do not require women to choose between brewing coffee and becoming the boss. That way, women who may lengthen — or even temporarily depart — from a career arc have options that are both commensurate with their qualifications and skills and recognize other priorities.
2. Provide More Mentoring for Female Professionals
Many women, including myself, repeat the refrain that we need more mentors who demonstrate the work-life balance and kind of lifestyle we hope to achieve. It is not enough to provide successful role models who are (or chose to be) unmarried and/or without children, have partners willing and able to take the dominant role in parenting (and seemingly, are totally comfortable with this reversal of traditional gender roles) or have nannies to raise the kids (and be both content and economically able to do so), work flexible schedules, and possess seemingly super-human energy. We need examples of real women with real lives.
3. Reconsider both Male and Female Needs for Work-Life Balance
As much of the critique around Slaughter’s article has suggested, the problem is not necessarily that “women can’t have it all,” rather, that male and female work-life balance needs fundamental redress. By restricting the conversation to a gender-based discussion, the general inequities of the workplace are overlooked. Men and women should be seen as partners in a profound overhaul of professional life.
Female professionals have a unique and vital role to play in the conflict resolution workplace and more attention and resources must be devoted to resolving these issues. Perhaps Israel itself — which models a healthier work/life balance more closely aligned with European schedules — could provide an important case-study. I hope the profession will work harder to resolve these conflicts at home so women can continue to productively contribute in the international arena.